US Muslims prepare for summertime Ramadan fasting

Posted July 25, 2011, at 9:13 p.m.
Last modified July 26, 2011, at 1 p.m.

MIAMI — The Muslim holy month of Ramadan falls during August this year, and Muslim Americans are getting ready to accommodate the daylight fasts required during Ramadan with adjustments in their schedules and eating habits. It can be even tougher for Muslims in America than for their counterparts in majority-Muslim countries, where business slows down during Ramadan and people take it easier during the day, says Dr. Elizabeth Rourke, an internist at Boston Medical Center.

“In the U.S., everyone is required to do what they would do ordinarily, the entire month,” Rourke says, “so it makes the fast much more demanding for American Muslims.”

Ramadan requires daily fasts of food and water during daytime hours. Typically observers eat a meal before dawn and break their fast at sunset. The fast-breaking meal — which varies by ethnic group but traditionally starts with a handful of sweet dates — is seen by many Muslims as an opportunity to gather with family and friends.

This year Ramadan begins Aug. 1, when the period from dawn to sunset in the continental U.S. can range from around 14 to around 16 hours, depending where you live. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle, which is shorter than the sun-based Gregorian calendar, so Ramadan creeps up 11 days every year. Ramadan can last 29 or 30 days, again depending on the lunar cycle.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the most important duties in Islam, one that even the not-so-religious typically observe. Children are not required to fast until they hit puberty, though many start building up to it when they’re younger with half-day fasts. Also exempt are the elderly, women who are pregnant or nursing, and people with chronic medical conditions. But even for healthy Mu slims, the daily fast from dawn until sunset can be grueling.

Beyond abstaining from food and drink, Muslims try to avoid negative words, thoughts and actions while fasting. Ramadan is seen as an opportunity to improve oneself, spiritually and personally.

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